Follow-up Audit on the Implementation of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Recommendations on Sustainable Development Strategies

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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2019
Cat. No.: PS4-259/2019E-PDF
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Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals

Figure 1: The Strategic Environmental Assessment Process

Image description

This flow chart shows the strategic environmental assessment process for federal departments and agencies to follow to consider environmental effects when developing policy, plan, and program proposals.

When initiating a proposal, a federal entity must first ask the following question: Is the proposal a policy, plan, or program proposal?

If the answer is no, then the entity documents its conclusions and proceeds with the proposal.

If the answer is yes, it is a policy, plan, or program proposal, then the entity proceeds with a preliminary scan. The entity starts the preliminary scan by asking the question: Is the proposal a special case that does not require a strategic environmental assessment?

Special cases can be emergencies,urgencies, or proposals previously assessed for environmental effects.

If the answer is yes, it is a special case that does not require a strategic environmental assessment, then the entity documents its conclusions and proceeds with the proposal.

If the answer is no, it is not a special case, then the entity asks the next question: Are there potential important environmental effects, either positive or negative, including proposal outcomes that are likely to affect the achievement of Federal Sustainable

Development Strategy goals and targets?

If the answer is no, then the entity documents its conclusions and proceeds with the proposal.

If the answer is yes, there are potential important environmental effects, either positive or negative, then the entity proceeds with a detailed assessment.

The detailed assessment requires the completion of a detailed analysis (including options, mitigation, and a follow-up plan).

Consultations are held if warranted.

The next step is to update the proposal.

Then the Minister or Cabinet makes a decision on the proposal.

The next step is to release a public statement, demonstrating that environmental factors have been considered in decision making.

The last step is to implement the policy, plan, or program.

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

2017 CESD Report and Recommendations

2017 CESD Report and Recommendations – Public Safety Response

2018 CESD Report

Objective and Scope

Audit Approach and Methodology

Conformance with professional standards
The follow-up audit conforms with the Institute of Internal Auditors' International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing and the Government of Canada's Policy on Internal Audit, as supported by the results of the Quality Assurance and Improvement Program.

Lines of Enquiry

In conducting the engagement, we assessed whether the following components are established at PS to effectively support the process for conducting strategic environmental assessment for all policy, plan and program proposals:

Governance over Strategic Environmental Assessments

Oversight over SEA Process
What we expected What we found
  • Clear accountabilities and oversight responsibilities over the process for integrating environmental sustainability considerations into decision-making.
  • Responsibilities for the application of the Cabinet Directive are shared within PS:
    • The Corporate Management Branch develops the DSDS and coordinates reporting against its goals.
    • PACB developed the guidance documents in 2017 to support application of the Cabinet Directive; however, the Branch was not thereon assigned continuous oversight responsibility over the departmental SEA process and practices.
    • Branch leads are accountable for conducting preliminary scans and SEAs and ensure they have the required approvals.
  • Based on best practices identified, PS has not adopted clear oversight responsibility for reviewing departmental SEA practices, and to monitor and challenge the integration of environmental considerations in individual proposals. 
Guidance and Training
What we expected What we found
  • Departmental resources made available to support the application of the Cabinet Directive.
  • The guidance documents developed by PS align with the expectations and requirements of the Cabinet Directive.
  • There is no dedicated resource or supporting network within PS that provide expert advice on SEAs, unlike processes established to support other key considerations for decision-making such as gender-based analysis plus, modern treaties implications, and official languages.
  • There is limited availability for training on conducting SEAs and PS has not established departmental-level training requirements on the subject.
  • Analysts interviewed had not received training for conducting SEAs.

Application of the Cabinet Directive

Early integration of potential environmental considerations
What we expected What we found
  • The analysis of environmental considerations should be fully integrated into the development of a policy, plan or program, and consideration of environmental effects should begin early in the conceptual planning stages of the proposal and undertaken on an iterative basis.
  • The Strategic Environmental Assessment Guidance Document and the Strategic Environmental Scan Template are supplied to Branches by the Cabinet Affairs Unit as part of each initial tasking notification for Cabinet proposals.
  • When completing the Strategic Environmental Scan Template, analysts are asked to indicate the start and completion dates of the assessment. However, we cannot attest as to whether the date indicated on the preliminary scans reviewed is an accurate representation of the Branch's early consideration of environmental impacts in the development of a proposal.
Completeness of SEAs conducted
What we expected What we found
  • All policy, plan and program proposals consider potential environmental effects, i.e. direct and indirect outcomes associated with implementing the proposal, whether positive or negative.
  • All SEAs are completed using the PS template and approved by authorized personnel. 
  • From the SEAs reviewed, we found that:
    • Some preliminary scans were only partially completed; in some cases, Branches did not include a rationale to support its assessment of all potential environmental outcomes;
    • Some preliminary scans were not signed and dated by the responsible Analyst, Director, Director General, Assistant Deputy Minister; and
    • Branches did not always use the approved PS template to conduct preliminary scans.
  • Fully completed SEA templates contribute to ensuring that comprehensive analyses of all potential environmental effects are conducted, and demonstrate that their results were ratified by authorized personnel.
Requirement for completing a full SEA
What we expected What we found
  • A full SEA must be conducted if environmental impacts (either positive or negative) are identified through a preliminary scan and are considered important.
  • For the majority of preliminary scans examined, Branches indicated that there was no impact (either positive or negative) on any components of the environment or any of the FSDS goals and targets.
  • Potential environmental effects were identified in the preliminary scan of a few proposals examined, but did not result in a full SEA being conducted by PS. Based on the limited information provided, we cannot attest as to whether the potential effects identified were deemed important.  
Evidence of consensus environmental effects for joint proposals
What we expected What we found
  • For joint proposals for which PS is the lead department, PS is accountable to arrive at a common conclusion on environmental effects. Lead Branches are required to integrate the results of the co-lead department's environmental scan and their conclusions. The interdepartmental partners are responsible to provide this information to PS.
  • Approximately half of the PS-led proposals reviewed were joint MCs or TB submissions. Based on the review of documents received, we cannot attest whether the perspectives of co-sponsor departments are reflected in the development of proposal options and the SEA analysis.
  • In a few instances, the preliminary scan of the co-sponsor department was integrated "as is" in the SEA template, without any indication that it was challenged by PS and that the overall conclusion was a common one for all the Departments involved.
Supporting evidence to substantiate analysis
What we expected What we found
  • Environmental considerations should be undertaken on an iterative basis throughout the policy development process and be fully integrated into the analysis of each of the options developed so that the consequences of alternative proposals can be compared and considered to reduce environmental risk.
  • Analyst may use a variety of tools, including matrices, checklists and experts available within the department and from other departments to conduct the analysis.
  • Lead Branches provided copies of completed SEA templates; however no supporting documentation such as summaries, case studies, analysis, or any other forms of evidence was provided to Internal Audit and Evaluation Directorate (IAED) to substantiate how potential environmental outcomes, either positive or negative, were considered.
  • Since Branches have not identified potential environment effects for most proposals reviewed as part of this audit, we are unable to comment as to whether analyses of alternative options were considered.

Reporting on SEA practices

Information Management Practices
What we expected What we found
  • The PS Strategic Environmental Assessment Guidance Document requires that ADM offices retain signed copies of their respective preliminary scans and SEAs and are responsible for the content of those records and their accuracy and completeness, for the purpose of reporting through the Departments Results Report (DRR), or in the event of future audits or evaluations.
  • In requesting SEAs and underlying supporting evidence, most ADM offices had challenges in locating the documentation within the allotted timelines.
  • The Cabinet Affairs Unit was ultimately asked to provide copies of Cabinet documents that some ADM offices could not locate.
  • Similar challenges in locating SEA documentation occurred at the time of the 2017 and 2018 CESD audits.
Reporting on SEA practices
What we expected What we found
  • Departmental and agency officials are responsible for reporting on SEAs of policies, plans, and programs as well as on progress made towards achieving their DSDS goals in their DRR.
  • A systematic approach for gathering information should be established to fully and accurately report on results achieved.
  • PS reports on its performance against its DSDS objectives and SEA practices in the DRR, as expected.
  • PS has not established a process that would enable the systematic integration of potential environmental effects identified in the SEAs towards the achievement of its DSDS goals or broader FSDS target.
  • ADMs are asked to discuss environmental considerations in the context of individual proposals presented at IPC.

Conclusions

PS has implemented previous management actions to address the CESD recommendations on Sustainable Development Strategies; however, improvements should be considered to increase the effectiveness of the current framework and practices and ensure that decisions are made with full awareness of environmental impacts.

Recommendations

  1. All Assistant Deputy Ministers should work collaboratively to improve upon the current framework and practices by :
    1. Reviewing the current governance framework and establishing clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities over the process for conducting strategic environmental assessments on all policy, plan and program proposals.
    2. Ensuring that guidance, training and tools on strategic environmental assessments are commensurate with the needs of the department.
  2. Each Assistant Deputy Minister should improve current branch practices by :
    1. Establishing oversight mechanisms to support the iterative integration of potential environmental considerations throughout the life of a proposal.
    2. Ensuring that information management practices are adequate to fulfill documentation and reporting requirements.

Annex A: PS Management Action Plan

Recommendation

Actions Planned

Target Completion Date

  1. All Assistant Deputy Ministers should work collaboratively to improve upon the current framework and practices by:
    1. Reviewing the current governance framework and establishing clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities over the process for conducting strategic environmental assessments on all policy, plan and program proposals.
    2. Ensuring that guidance, training and tools on strategic environmental assessments are commensurate with the needs of the department.
  1. PACB, in consultation with all Branches, will lead:
    1. The review of the current governance framework, including roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities; and
    2. The review and assessment of available guidance, training and tools;
  2. PACB will present the proposed options/next steps for decision by the Internal Policy Committee.

June 2020

  1. Each Assistant Deputy Minister should improve current branch practices by:
    1. Establishing oversight mechanisms to support the iterative integration of potential environmental considerations throughout the life of a proposal.
    2. Ensuring that information management practices are adequate to fulfill documentation and reporting requirements.
  1. Each ADM will require that oversight mechanisms be imbedded in all new policy, plan and program proposals so that potential environmental effects are considered throughout the life of a proposal.
  2. Each ADMO will create:
    1. A document to track all branch-led preliminary SEA scans and, if applicable, full SEAs.
    2. An electronic filing system to ensure all final signed preliminary scans and full SEAs, along with supporting documentation, are scanned and saved accordingly.

December 2020 (and ongoing)

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